Path to fracking eased in oil, gas drilling plans

The silhouette of a pmpjack at sunset. The jacks can remove five to 40 liters of crude oil wuith each stroke. (Photo: Ronnie Chua, via Shutterstock)

Once again, the stage is being set for a multi-pronged battle in California between environmentalists and the Trump administration.

On May 9, the federal government announced plans to open 725,500 acres of public lands on California’s Central Coast and the Bay Area to new oil and gas drilling. Specifically, the plan potentially involves drilling in the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Stanislaus.

Earlier, on April 25, the Trump administration had released its draft proposal to reopen more than a million acres of public land to drilling in much the same area — Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.

It really scares us that wells could be drilled right next to a national park like Sequoia, which is already one of the most polluted parks in the country for air pollution.” — Mark Rose

The plans, if put into effect, would end a five-year-old moratorium on leasing federal public land in California to oil companies. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has not held a drilling lease sale in California since 2013, when a judge ruled that the agency violated the law when it issued oil leases in Monterey and Fresno Counties without considering the risks of hydraulic fracturing, widely known as fracking.

A new environmental report from the Department of the Interior meets the judge’s requirement for another look at fracking, removing one hurdle to resuming drilling.

Fracking frees oils and natural gas from dense rock formations by pumping water, sand and chemical additives into the ground. Fracking started in the 1940’s, and since then, over 1 million wells have been drilled using fracking.

Supporters of the process say fracking poses no threat to the environment, and note that fracking has created millions of jobs in the US. They also contend that fracking has been reducing greenhouse gases over the years.

But environmentalists and their allies — including the state of California — say fracking could poison ground water, pollute surface water, damage natural landscapes and threaten wildlife. Fracking uses large amounts of water — millions of gallons of water are used for each well drilled using fracking. Early last year, the state sued the Trump administration over the federal government’s efforts to loosen fracking restrictions.

The government does not make companies say what is inside their fracking fluid, although critics contend the fracking fluids contain chemicals linked to cancer, such as benzene and toluene.

Teach the Earth, a portal to earth-education resources, found 632 chemicals in drilling operations around the U.S., and  75% of those chemicals could affect the skin, eyes, sensory organs and respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Some 40%-to-50% of the chemicals could affect the kidneys, and the immune, cardiovascular, brain and nervous systems.

The National Park Conservation Association’s Mark Rose fears the proposal because it covers so much land.

“When you open up … this wide swath of land, it really scares us that wells could be drilled right next to a national park like Sequoia, which is already one of the most polluted parks in the country for air pollution,” Rose said while talking to the Los Angeles Times.

The proposal all adds up to a total of 1,736,970 acres across 19 California counties. These areas are close to Los Padres National Forest, Carrizo Plain National Monument, and Wind Wolves Preserve.

“We’ve got this considerable demand for energy. We use 48 million gallons of gasoline a day in California.” — Bob Poole

“Trump’s new plan aims to stab oil derricks and fracking rigs into some of California’s most beautiful landscapes,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “From Monterey to the Bay Area, the president wants to let oil companies drill and spill their way across our beloved public lands and wildlife habitat. As we fight climate chaos, there’s no justification for any new drilling and fracking, let alone this outrageous assault on our pristine wild places.”

As far as the oil industry is concerned, it’s matter of demand.

“We’ve got this considerable demand for energy. We use 48 million gallons of gasoline a day in California,” says Bob Poole, the director of production for state and coastal issues for the Western States Petroleum Association.

“We need to have a reality-based conversation,” Poole told Capitol Weekly in a telephone interview.

“California uses 2 million barrels of oil a day; only 30 percent of it is produced in California. The rest – 70 percent – has to be imported,” Poole added. “We’re making strides in solar and wind, but the challenge we face is one of scale. “

Offshore drilling has drawn heated opposition from coastal states, including California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has indicated he would like to have the state move decisively toward a green energy future, but Poole says “wind and solar are only part of the Equation.”

Based on conversations with the governor, “Our sense is that the governor’s intentions are pretty pragmatic,” Poole says.

In a development that brought cheer to environmentalists, the Interior Department has put new offshore drilling on hold pending the outcome of court challenges.

Offshore drilling has drawn heated opposition from coastal states, including California. The Center for Biological Diversity noted that 65 California cities and counties oppose offshore drilling.

The Center, in a March statement, said it has sued the Trump administration for refusing to “provide public records of its plans to clear the way for new oil drilling and fracking along California’s Central Coast and in the Bay Area.”

The Bureau of Land Management says a latest California move centers on a balanced approach. Under a large color photograph of a wildflower-covered hillside with a rainbow on the horizon, the BLM said “sustainable development of oil and gas resources is a key component of the agency’s multiple use and sustained yield mission.

“In keeping with the Administration’s goal of strengthening America’s energy independence, the BLM supports an all-of-the-above energy plan that includes oil and gas, coal, strategic minerals, and renewable sources such as wind, geothermal, and solar – all of which can be developed on public lands.”

One thing appears certain amid the back-and-forth: The final scenes will take place in courtrooms.


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